In April 2018 WWO Bulgaria will begin the project “Growing by Playing” funded by the International Women’s Club. The project aims to support the development, integration and adaptation of refugee children in Bulgarian education institutions (nurseries, kindergartens, schools) by providing play-based activities for children and their families who have received refugee or humanitarian status in Bulgaria.
As a result of the dynamic political situation related to the refugees in Europe, the number of families from the Near East who choose to stay in Bulgaria has increased in the last years. According to the information provided by the State Agency for Refugees a total of 12 477 people got a refugee status and 10 479 got a humanitarian status between 1993 and 2017. The data for 2017 shows that 348 children coming with their families from Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq got refugee status, 98 of them being aged 0 to 4 and 250 – between 5 and 17 years. Only 35% of them are enrolled in school.
The adaptation of the children in schools and kindergartens is hindered by their poor command of Bulgarian, the limited number of social skills and the lack of stimuli for their cognitive development caused by the constraints their families face in their adaptation process. The play sessions in the project “Growing by Playing” will support the process of adaptation of 12 to 15 children ages 3 to 7 years old and their families.
The 5000 lv. project is among the 25 projects selected by the International Women’s Club for funding in 2018. The project activities will take place in the next 12 months and will include play sessions three times a week with children from families with refugee or humanitarian status who are preparing to be enrolled in the Bulgarian educational system. 10 Bulgarian families with children ages 3 to 7 years old will also be included in the play sessions, thereby encouraging the integration of the refugee children and fostering their communication with Bulgarian peers. Play will create opportunities for developing the children’s cognitive, communication and social skills and will also support the parents to learn to recognize and respond to their children’s needs in the process of adaptating to the new environment.
Every parent will be able to monitor their child/ren’s progress by filling out a screening questionnaire (DP3) which will raise the parents’ awareness of their children’s development and identify their strengths and needs for additional support. Mothers will not only take part in the play sessions with their children but will be encouraged to share and discuss important ECD topics. In order to improve the Bulgarian language skills and cultural exchange the refugee and Bulgarian children will be provided the opportunity to communicate informally at a community event where Bulgarian mothers can take part in the group play sessions alongside the refugee mothers.
“Growing by Playing” builds on WWO Bulgaria’s experience working with refugee children alongside Caritas Bulgaria in the project “Restart Play”. Three times a week, children have the opportunity to learn through play with the help of two play specialists and WWO’s educational programs. The children’s mothers attend Bulgarian language classes while their children play. “Growing by Playing” introduces an increased involvement of the parents in the play sessions and the participation of Bulgarian families, which will support the process of integration and adaptation of the children and their parents. The project will allow WWO Bulgaria to formulate principles for successfully supporting the development and integration of children with refugee status, which can be applied and replicated in other locations and by other organizations.